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Dev Med Child Neurol. 2011 Dec;53(12):1143-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8749.2011.04103.x. Epub 2011 Aug 31.

Autonomic effects of refractory epilepsy on heart rate variability in children: influence of intermittent vagus nerve stimulation.

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Department of Pediatric Neurology, University Hospitals Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.



Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is a therapeutic option for individuals with refractory epilepsy. Individuals with refractory epilepsy are prone to dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system. Reduced heart rate variability is a marker of dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system. Our goal was to study heart rate variability in children with refractory epilepsy and the influence of VNS on this parameter.


In 17 children (13 male; four female; mean age 7 y 6 mo; age range 3-16 y) with refractory epilepsy, electroencephalographic and electrocardiographic data were obtained before and after implantation of VNS during stage 2 and slow-wave sleep. Time and frequency domain parameters were calculated and the results were compared with an age- and sex-matched group of individuals without refractory epilepsy.


Our results show that autonomic cardiac control is affected in individuals with refractory epilepsy. There is a striking reduction in vagal tone during slow-wave sleep and modulation capacity is smaller than in individuals without refractory epilepsy. Implantation of VNS induces a shift in sympathovagal balance towards sympathetic predominance and an improvement in autonomic modulation.


Heart rate variability is affected in children with refractory epilepsy, and changes after implantation of VNS. The observed changes could be of importance in the cardiac complications of individuals with epilepsy and should be explored in more detail.

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